Incremental Credential / Incremental Credentialing System / Incremental Credentialing Framework

Last Updated: 04/01/2024

Relational Map coming soon. Learn more about the work we’re doing with AI and view our example prototypes here.


Incremental Credentials capture learning as it is acquired along the learning pathway. Incremental credentials formally recognize and connect that acquired learning to a larger context. These credentials can be credited or non-credited, of any size (small units to degrees), and of any level (undergraduate to graduate). The purpose is that learners are recognized for what they can do as they go through the learning process, and receive formal documentation of that learning.

An Incremental Credentialing System is a concept proposed by the initiative Credential As You Go, of a nationally recognized, authorized, incremental, postsecondary credentialing system that expands upon existing certificates and degrees to increase the number of recipients of high-quality postsecondary credentials. It would be supported at the federal, state, system, and institutional levels, and provide clear credentialing pathways as alternatives to the current degree system. These pathways would be available to first-time students, returning adults, and adults with no recognized postsecondary education. 

Incremental Credentialing is the overall design and process used to develop and connect credentials to further learning and employment.

Incremental Credentialing Framework: According to Credential As You Go (2022), the Incremental Credentialing Framework includes the following:

  • Learn As You Go - Incremental credentials stand on their own, unconnected to a degree, but prepare individuals for up-skilling, re-skilling, or developing new skills in specific workplace areas.
  • Add On As You Go - Incremental credentials are obtained for specializations that add onto a degree pathway, but may not necessarily be planned in the pathway.
  • Stack As You Go - Incremental credentials add together or stack into larger credentials and degrees, and are planned into credentialing pathways.
  • Transfer As You Go - Incremental credentials are built to transfer across institutions and are a potential cost-sharing mechanism (students cross-register to another institution to pick up a specialty that the home institution does not offer).
  • Partner As You Go - Incremental credentials prepare for and include field-expected credentials for work, as well as work-related credentials that are accepted into degree or other credentialing pathways, developed in conjunction with business/industry partner(s).
  • Retro As You Go - Incremental credentials are awarded for learning already acquired but not yet credentialed. The Framework also includes auto-awarding of credentials to reduce the additional steps students typically go through to “apply” for a credential or graduation.

Ecosystem Relationship

Incremental Credentials, the Incremental Credentialing System, and the Incremental Credentialing Framework are all part of propelling worker learners into the workforce through efficient credentialing. It is a strategy in the credentialing system that relies heavily on the principles of transparency, recordkeeping, and verification.


Credential As You Go


The Incremental Credential Framework was developed through a 2019-2021 planning, research, and testing project in a Lumina Foundation grant to SUNY Empire State College (Credential As You Go, Phase I). The Framework was developed from an environmental scan, prototyping, and feedback from national leaders. The Framework includes six approaches of credentialing that can be used to design incremental credentials and auto-awarding of credentials to reduce the additional step students typically go through to apply for a credential or graduation, plus a focus on prior learning assessment.

See Also

Badges: Badges are tools to represent someone’s achievements, certifications, or abilities. There are several types of badges such as digital badges, skills badges, open badges, and competency badges. A badge is usually digital and has underlying metadata that represents a shareable learner achievement and/or credential earned. Open Badges are digital badges that contain embedded metadata about skills and achievements. They are shareable across the web. Competency badges represent single or sets of competencies with defined market value in professional or academic settings. Competency badges are usually offered through micro-credential or degree programs. A skill badge is earned through completion of a series of tasks or labs, and  then a final assessment or challenge to test a learner's skills. A certification badge validates an individual's knowledge and understanding.

Credit pathways, noncredit to credit articulation: Credit pathways are ways for learners to earn reputable or transferable credits for proven skills or work completed. Credit pathways include but are not limited to: credit/course articulation, credit for prior learning, and noncredit to credit bridges. Course articulation is the process of comparing the content of courses that are transferred between postsecondary institutions – one institution matches its courses or requirements to coursework completed at another institution. Non-credit education includes any course or program that did not go through the process to be for-credit at a community college or university. Many higher education institutions develop noncredit to credit bridge pathways to enable learners to earn credit for learning acquired through noncredit courses and programs.

Digital Credential Ecosystem / Marketplace: Digital credentials are similar to digital badges in the sense that they create opportunities for learners and workers to demonstrate qualifications, skill sets, claims, or achievements through digital certificates or documents. Digital credentials are verified and awarded through the digital credential ecosystem. An ecosystem or marketplace of schools, training programs, institutions, industries, employers, and career pathways allows for the issuing, awarding, and verification of these digital credentials and gives them validity. 

Frontloaded Embedded Non-degree Pathways: Frontloading embedded non-degree pathways is a method to address workers and learners who are looking to re- or upskill quickly to transition jobs. It entails reordering degree pathways to frontload embedded non-degree credentials. 

Quality Non-degree Credential: Quality non-degree credentials provide workers and learners with the means to successfully achieve their employment and educational goals. In order to qualify, there must be valid, reliable, and transparent evidence that the credential constitutes quality. Quality non-degree credentials have substantial job opportunities associated with them, have affiliated competencies, and are part of educational or training pathways.


Request an Edit

Have something to add or refine? Your input in this work matters greatly and we look forward to reviewing your additions

Organizations (275)

Initiatives (309)

Topics (93)

Skip to content